A Different Me focuses less on heartache and more on maturity of her vocals and lyrics. Cole explained that, "The first two albums were more…painful. It's a different me this time: a young woman who's still growing and finding myself, exploring life through different routes musically and in other areas. I wrote more about other people's situations than my own. I'm moving forward."
On the songwriting process, Cole stated, "When I hear something, I hear it—it doesn't take me three, four, five times to hear a song and say, 'OK, let's write.' If I don't write to it right off the bat, it's not working." All the songs on the album were written or co-written by Cole. Guest appearances include Amina, Nas, Monica and 2Pac. Along with the album, Cole is developing a movie based on her life. A screenwriter will develop the script with Cole in 2009.
The album was released on December 16, 2008. Earlier that week, Cole made an appearance on BET's 106 and Park being interviewed and introducing the video to "Playa Cardz Right". Cole also embarked on the I Am Music Tour in late 2008 and A Different Me Tour in the summer of 2009. She was featured in magazines Billboard, WordUp and VIBE from winter of 2008 to spring of 2009.
The album received generally favorable reviews. Andy Kellman of Allmusic gave the album four out of five stars, calling the album "Cole's most free-spirited and adventurous album to date", going on to say that there are "at least seven songs here that rate as highly as the best from the first two albums". Jim Farber of Daily News also gave the album four out of five stars, noting that "Cole's assertions of sweetness and light hardly prove as seamless, or simple, as her songs declare". He declares that "her makeover feels less like a day at the spa than a night at the shrink", going on to say that "instead of seeming harrowing or dark", the album's result is "soulful and fulfilling".The Boston Globe said that "Cole emphatically dares to be different—and pretty great". On the contrary, Jon Caramanica of The New York Times noted that Cole "let go of her doubt", going on to say that "it's missed".
The album debuted at number two on the U.S. Billboard 200, selling 322,000 copies in its first week, giving Cole her best week sales. In its second week, the album fell to number seven, selling 127,000 copies. In its third and fourth week, the album remained at number seven, selling 54,000 and 37,000 copies, respectively. In its fifth week, the album fell to number nine, selling 31,000 copies. In its sixth week, the album climbed to number six, selling 31,000 copies. In its seventh week, the album fell to number eight, selling 31,000 copies. In its eighth week, the album fell to number ten. Despite the two tracks not being singles, "Beautiful Music" and "Where This Love Could End Up" both made it on the US R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart at #95 and #79. The album has sold over 1,000,000 copies in the U.S.
"Playa Cardz Right" was the debut single featuring a posthumous release from rap icon, Tupac Shakur. The song was originally featured on Pac's Life (2006) before being remastered. It was produced by Carvin & Ivan and Ron Fair. The video was released on BET's Access Granted on October 30, 2008 and was officially released on October 31, 2008. It peaked at number nine on Billboard's US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs.
"You Complete Me" was the second single. It was featured on Cole's Myspace page in December and officially released on January 20, 2009. It was produced by Theron Feemster and Ron Fair. It peaked at number seven on Billboard's US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs.
"Trust" was the third single. Originally recorded as a solo by Cole and released as an iTunes bonus track to her previous project, Just like You, it was rerecorded featuring vocals from R&B singer and friend, Monica. It was produced by Toxic and Ron Fair. The video premiered on April 9, 2009 and peaked at number one on BET's 106 & Park. It peaked at number five on Billboard's US Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs becoming the most successful single of the album.
"This Is Us" was rumored to be the fourth and final single of the album. Although the single was never officially released, it did receive radio airplay.